The best Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, ranked
Arnold Schwarzenegger has captivated the United States and the world at large for decades. Long before he was a Reddit user and leader of California, he was an actor with a filmography filled with hits, misses, a Christmas movie⏤which is his one and only directorial effort to date⏤and who can forget his turn as Mr. Freeze in 1997’s Batman and Robin?
Looking at it all, it can seem daunting to dive in and decipher Schwarzenegger’s best works across his time on screens of all sizes. Everyone knows The Terminator, but does anyone recall 1976’s Stay Hungry, where the famed immigrant ended up winning a Golden Globe for Best Newcomer?
Few may, in our world today where 15 minutes of fame has been replaced with 15 seconds and stars once carefully developed and maintained by studios can come into their own on social media platforms like TikTok. With this in mind, here is our ranking of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 10 best movies. Things where he had a cameo, played himself, went uncredited, or had his lines dubbed over (we’re looking at you, Hercules in New York) were not counted for clarity’s sake.
10. Aftermath (2017)
This recent entry in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s post-gubernatorial film efforts did not set critics on fire with its 42 percent approval rating, but it’s not bad. It’s based on true events (more than some other movies which use this tagline) and looks honestly at what it means to be a grieving family member after a disaster that can end up on the nightly news. Much like how Sylvester Stallone could have been the next Brando, we get glimpses of a more interesting Arnold here.
9. Kindergarten Cop (1990)
“It’s not a tumah!” This line was burned into the brains of anyone who saw this film when it came out. It’s always nice to see Schwarzenegger subdued and doing things beyond what required him to be oily and shirtless. Critics gave this movie a 51 percent fresh rating, but for Arnold (who made it due to wanting to challenge himself by working with children, which can be hard on a set) and every fan who comes in as time goes on, it is so very much more.
8. Maggie (2015)
This film went largely unnoticed and managed to earn a 60 percent rating from critics. Here we see Schwarzenegger doing some of the more experimental work his later career begs for as the father of a young girl who is slowly turning into a zombie. Watching him process the pain of loss which doubles for more conventional diseases like cancer is profound. It did not make an impact when it came out and barely made any money, but do give it your time.
7. Conan the Barbarian (1982)
This sword and sorcery epic likely came in at the right time due to the popularity of Dungeons & Dragons at the moment. It has a dripping atmosphere, showcases Schwarzenegger’s occasional depth when he carries numerous scenes by hardly uttering a word, and has a glorious amount of violence. Maybe another will come someday, but for now we’re happy saying that this 66 percent fresh movie is one of the best from the one-time professional bodybuilder.
6. The Running Man (1987)
Could you imagine if Arnold Schwarzenegger was in a Stephen King movie today? Though this is one that was known for a while to the general public as a Richard Bachman joint, it does belong to the master from Maine. Though it can be derided by some as a generic action vehicle, it’s still fun, a bit better than seven, and has a 66 percent rating.
5. Stay Hungry (1976)
As stated above, this is one of Schwarzenegger’s lesser-known films by today’s standards. When the multi-threat public figure was still building his movie career and before he was an action star, he appeared in this dramedy as Joe Santo. Others in the work included Jeff Bridges, Sally Field, and Robert Englund before his days as the Freddy we know and fear, and the film follows a man who needs to build a gym. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 67 percent fresh rating and man, it would be interesting to see all these actors in a movie again after the lives they’ve led.
4. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)
Fans may have hated it, and its memory online today is at the start of its decline as the series that shot Schwarzenegger to superstardom, but at the time it was seen as adequate. Critics assessed it to be about 69 percent fresh, it made almost $500 million, and had an R rating. Subsequent entries in the Terminator series could learn from it (especially the ending) and honestly, some of Arnold’s comedic moments were welcome in a movie about a nuclear holocaust.
3. True Lies (1994)
Did you know that Arnold Schwarzenegger treasures his more comedic work than he does his action films? Yes, he’s said so many times and this collaboration between him and director James Cameron is one of the best. It has a 71 percent fresh rating, a non-insufferable Tom Arnold, the always-excellent Jamie Lee Curtis, plus who can forget Arnold’s Harry Tasker stalling some militants by pretending the super-weapon in front of him is a benign object? More of this, please.
2. Predator (1987)
The movie with the handshake which spawned thousands of memes and is regarded by some as when the Reagan era peaked is so much more than just an adventure with a surprising number of future political candidates and officials in the jungle. There is horror, amazing iconic lines, Schwarzenegger being vulnerable and afraid and a number of cool fan interpretations as well. It’s a shame that this 82 percent fresh movie never got the sequel it deserves, but hey, there’s always time.
1. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
What more can be said about this film and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s performance in it? People know it, people love it, it’s twist of him returning as a hero was spoiled in the marketing, and it set the standard for what a duology should be. If only all of the needless sequels which came after were strangled in the creative crib, this 93 percent hit would be even more of a staple in our culture today. At least it stands the test of time for those who watch it on television.
This concludes our definitive ranking of the best Arnold Schwarzenegger movies ever. Is there one you believe should be on here but is not? Will we have to update this later on if he makes something amazing? Let us know in comments.